Capitalism in America: A History by Alan Greenspan & Adrian Wooldridge - review by Alan Ryan

Alan Ryan

From the Mayflower to Microsoft

Capitalism in America: A History


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Capitalism in America begins with a nice device: imagine it is 1620, and you are asked to guess which part of the world will be the leading power, economically, militarily and scientifically, in the coming centuries. It’s most unlikely that you will say ‘North America’. At that time, China was more populous than Europe, while South America was richer in precious metals; North America, by contrast, was sparsely occupied by native peoples, with one or two European outposts clinging to the east coast. And yet…

As this might suggest, the book is for the most part a triumphalist history. Its heroes are the entrepreneurs and inventors who transformed the United States from a farming economy into the world’s most productive industrial society. Its guiding theme is borrowed from Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Schumpeter coined the phrase ‘gale of creative destruction’ to describe the process – unique, he thought, to capitalism – whereby the economy was never at rest but was constantly reinventing itself. Schumpeter believed that the process would eventually run its course and that the rise of bureaucratically managed firms would end the state of affairs whereby every successful entrepreneur is in perpetual danger of being overtaken by a competitor.

Like Schumpeter, though for very different reasons, Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge fear that the American economy has lost its dynamism. For the most part, however, the story is one of exhilarating progress. The history the authors narrate is pretty familiar, although the angle from which it is

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